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DHAKA, Bangladesh – Thousands of Bangladeshis poured onto the streets to applaud the execution of an Islamist party official on charges of crimes against humanity during the country's 1971 independence war, while security forces were on alert Sunday for a possible backlash from his supporters.
Mohammad Qamaruzzaman was hanged Saturday night in the central jail in the capital, Dhaka, a senior prison official, Forman Ali, told reporters. He was buried early Sunday under tight security, according to his brother, Kafil Uddin.
Prosecutors said that Qamaruzzaman, an assistant secretary general of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, headed a militia group that collaborated with the Pakistani army in central Bangladesh in 1971 and was behind the killings of at least 120 unarmed farmers.
Bangladesh blames Pakistani soldiers and local collaborators for the deaths of 3 million people during the nine-month war of independence from Pakistan. An estimated 200,000 women were raped and about 10 million people fled to refugee camps in neighboring India.
Jamaat-e-Islami denounced the execution and called for a nationwide general strike Monday. At the same time, thousands of people applauded the execution on the streets of Dhaka and other cities, a sign of popular approval of the war crime trials launched by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. More rallies supporting the execution were planned for Sunday.
"We are happy that justice has been delivered finally," said Mohammad Al Masum, a student at Dhaka University, who joined a procession in Shabagh Square. "I did not see the war but I am sure the families that lost their dear ones will be happy today."
Hasina has vowed to continue the trials despite pressure from aboard and the opposition at home. Jamaat-e-Islami party, which garners about 2 percent to 3 percent of popular vote, has been weakened significantly as most of its senior leaders have already been convicted. Another assistant secretary, Abdul Quader Mollah, was executed in 2013 for similar crimes.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani, earlier this week urged Bangladesh not to carry out the execution, saying that Qamaruzzman's trial did not meet international standards.
The United States was more guarded in its assessment of the trial, but still urged the government not to proceed with the execution.
"We have seen progress, but still believe that further improvements ... could ensure these proceedings meet domestic and international obligations," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement shortly before the execution.
The Bangladeshi government said the trial met the proper standards with the defendant receiving the opportunity to challenge the prosecution's case in open court and appeal the verdict all the way up to the Supreme Court. Qamaruzzaman, however, refused to seek presidential clemency.
The initial trials that followed Bangladesh's independence four decades ago were halted after the assassination of then-president and independence leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman — Hasina's father — and most of his family members in a 1975 military coup. Hasina revived the process, making good on a pledge she made before 2008 elections.